You’d think that by my nearly mid-fifties I’d have grown out of not finishing books, wouldn’t you? Life’s too short, the TBR’s too big and all that. Yet generally I desperately still want to finish reading any book I start. There’s no ‘owing it to the author to give their book a fair read’ duty to this, I’m coming to the feeling that it’s mostly ‘hope’ that keeps me going, an optimistic outlook that hopes that a book that I’m stuck in, or not enjoying turns around by the end. Combine that the the sense of personal challenge, and that generally keeps me reading. It’s rare for me to give up on a book, but I did on the following one:
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
I really enjoyed Ferris’s first novel Then we came to the end about office politics, downsizing and corporate management gobbledegook – I recognised elements of the latter in particular from the multinational I used to work for. I read it pre-blog and in my spreadsheet my capsule review says the following:
“On a normal workday you spend more time with your colleagues than your family and are forced into relationships with people you probably don’t like. Add a failing business where people are getting laid off one by one, and everyone else is scared witless that it’ll be them next – this makes for some strained behaviour which is exploited to the full in this novel.
By turns comic and sad, but always with tongue stuck firmly in cheek, my only complaint was it was too long; it was a bit flabby in parts and 300 pages would have been a better length. There were just some of the team I just couldn’t care less about that I got bored with, and others like Joe the supervisor who we never really got to know at all – but that was probably deliberate! I did love the bit with the Office Co-ordinator checking serial numbers on chairs (believe me that really happens!).”
Anyway I was looking forward to reading his new one which is about a dentist – especially as I’ve just had £1000 worth of root canal and crown work done!
It started well. The main character, dentist Paul O’Rourke, narrates the whole book as a monologue and the following paragraph is from the second page:
A dentist is only half the doctor he claims to be. THat he’s also half mortician is the secret he keeps to himself. The ailing bits he tried to turn healthy again. The dead bits he just tried to make presentable. He bores a hole, clears the rot, fills the pit, and seals the hatch. He yanks the teeth, pours the mold, fits the fakes, and paints to match. Open cavities are the eye stones of skulls, and molars stand erect as tombstones.
Soon after though Paul starts rambling, and essentially he rambles his way through the whole book. About golf, the Red Sox, his love-life or lack of, and especially religion and the meaning of life. For an atheist, he seems to want something to believe in – and when a departing client commits identity theft and starts posting religious comments, from the devout to the weird to the nasty in his name – the rest of the book gets obsessed by him wallowing in it. I lasted until about page 75, and then very quickly skimmed my way through the rest. I’m glad I didn’t bother. The main character is so tedious.
If the book has one saving grace – it’s Betsy Conrad – Paul’s super-efficient dental hygienist. She’s sixty, a widow, a devout Catholic and all round good egg whose role is to constantly question Paul and keep him running on the right track.
I’d come out of the bathroom and she’d be standing right there, “I’ve been looking all over for you,” she’d say. “Where have you been?” I’d tell her the obvious, she’d say, “Why must you call it the Thunderbox?” I’d tell her, adding a few details , and she’d grow severe, she’d say, ‘”Please do not refer to what you do in the bathroom as ‘making the pope’s fountain.’ I know the pope is just a joke to you. I know the Catholic Church is nothing but a whetting stone for your wit. But I happen to hold the church in the highest regard, and though you can’t understand that, if you had any respect for me you would mind what you say about the pope.”
There are some really funny moments, and some passages that are brilliantly written particularly about work (again), but they get lost amongst all the psycho-babble about the meaning of life and finding yourself, and Paul being so self-centred. Ferris can write though, and I’ll certainly read more of him hoping that his best is yet to come.
P.S. I did like the epilogue though… (DNF)
For another take on this novel, see Rachel’s review at Book Snob
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Source: Publisher – Thank you!
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To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, pub Penguin Viking, May 2014, Hardback 352 pages.